Throughout my ten or so years of doing history at school the name Che Guevara has only cropped up once or twice, and even then only as a fleeting mention. That is a contrast to my life as a whole, in which I have seen that iconic Che image printed on t-shirts, spray-painted on walls and in all sorts of other places. But I still knew very little about the man and why he is so iconic across the planet. So one of the things I was looking for from Steven Soderbergh’s Che: Part One, when I watched it for the first time yesterday evening, was to finally find out about the man behind the face.
Che: Part One is essentially a visual history lesson (it’s not like a documentary, in which you would be told all about Che by some talking heads thoroughly analysing his life, and it doesn’t look deep enough to be classed as a proper biopic). But Che: Part One is incredibly shallow for something that seems to be a visual history. Even though by the end I knew a lot more about the man, and his beliefs, it still felt as though the film had only scratched the surface. I never felt as if I had been shown the inner-workings of Che Guevara, just what was visible on the surface. The whole film felt very distant, as if you were just watching all these events unfold in front of you, rather than being a part of them. Also, the film never went into much detail about the background of the events, for example why the Batista regime was so bad or why Che felt so passionately about his cause.
It’s certainly not a film for the masses; the sporadic guerrilla warfare scenes were never what you would call exciting, and there’s a whole lot of talking. And to be honest it can’t really be called entertainment, it’s far more focused on telling you what happened, as truthfully as possible, and it never does something just for entertainment value, which I suppose, in the current film climate, should be applauded.
The film also follows a strange chronology, hopping back and forth between the revolution and a trip Che made to the US in the early sixties. The film is often worse off for it, due to some seemingly strange cut-off points and the fact that it sometimes feels like a series of events rather than a proper story.
It must be said though that Benicio Del Toro is fantastic playing such an icon with the restraint and control that he does, and he certainly looked the part. I also found the film consistently interesting and certainly learned a lot more about the Cuban Revolution, but you must concentrate through all the subtitles etc. to really take as much from the film as possible. The cinematography and locations must also be praised because the film looked fantastic, the beautiful greens of the forests and the dazzling yellows of some of the crops. Sorderbergh also used archive footage from Che’s trip to America and mixed it in with faux-archive footage shot in black and white, complete with TV-esque shots and shaky-cam, which was stylish, but added yet more to the visual history lesson angle.
So Che: Part One is a bare-bones visual history, lacking in any Hollywood thrills, but it is interesting if you put the effort in. Believable performances and beautiful cinematography also add a lot to the film.